Unexpected rise of ozone-damaging chemical emissions

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Montreal Protocol expert Durwood Zaelke told The Washington Post that someone was clearly "cheating."

Something odd is happening with a now-banned chemical that eats away at Earth's protective ozone layer: Scientists say there's more of it - not less - going into the atmosphere, and they don't know where it is coming from. "I was astounded by it really". The startling resurgence of the chemical, reported in Nature, will likely spark an global investigation to track down the mysterious source.

However, a study recently published in Nature reveals that CFC-11 production may be happening somewhere in the world despite the Montreal Protocol. As expected, CFC-11 levels have been declining since the chemical was banned and production phased out.

"There's some slight possibility there's an unintentional release, but...they make it clear there's strong evidence this is actually being produced", Zaelke said.

But for now, the scientists don't know exactly who, or where, that person would be.

They add the increase in emissions may be stemming from underreported production of CFC-11, likely from East Asia.

Zaelke said he was surprised by the findings, not just because the chemical has always been banned, but also because alternatives already exist, making it hard to imagine what the market for CFC-11 today would be.

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"It's disappointing, I would not have expected it to happen", said Dr Michaela Hegglin from Reading University, UK, who was not involved in the study. "In the end, we concluded that it's most likely that someone may be producing the CFC11 that's escaping to the atmosphere", he said. It is thought that about 13,000 tonnes a year has been released since 2013. Together, this analysis suggested the emissions are coming from east Asia.

Officially, the production of CFC-11 should be near zero or nearly zero - at least, those are the countries that cooperate with the United Nations body that monitors and ensures compliance with the Montreal Protocol. Following the introduction of the Montreal Protocol, atmospheric levels fell steadily from 2002 to 2012.

He adds that the results could have "huge implications" for ozone recovery. That loss of ozone, in turn, weakens our protection from UV radiation at the Earth's surface.

But "continued increase in global CFC-11 emissions will put that progress at risk".

"It is therefore imperative that this finding be discussed at the next Ministerial meeting of Governments given recovery of the ozone layer is dependent on all countries complying with the Montreal Protocol (and its adjustments and amendments) with emissions globally dropping to zero".

That said, if the prompt action isn't taken as soon as possible, these emissions can prove to be a major roadblock and delay the recovery of ozone.

The UNEP said that is was "critical that we take stock of this science, identify the causes of these emissions and take necessary action".

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